Championship game a treat for former Duke football players

By Luke DeCock ldecock@newsobserver.comDecember 6, 2013 

For years, when gathering with his fellow NFL alumni, Ed Newman had to keep quiet when they started talking about their alma maters. Suddenly, it’s cool to be from Duke, a phenomenon the four-time Pro Bowler is enjoying.

“My old NFL buddies will talk about Alabama or Ohio State or Notre Dame or the University of Miami,” Newman said. “They give the brag. They do the strut in the locker room. Now they’re giving me a pat on the back: ‘Ed, you finally have a chance to pull for your team.’”

Newman, who played 12 seasons at guard for the Miami Dolphins, appearing in three Super Bowls, graduated from Duke in 1973 after playing for Mike McGee, a Duke legend in his own right as a player. Like many of Duke’s greatest football players, he has particularly enjoyed the team’s renaissance.

“Everybody is not surprised, but very proud of what’s been accomplished,” said Jay Wilkinson, who finished ninth in the 1963 Heisman voting as the ACC player of the year. “It’s been so many years since the time we all played.

“Those of us from the early 1960s, we used to debate whether we would have gone to Duke without the winning tradition. All of us agreed we would not have gone to Duke. It will be much easier for David Cutcliffe now. They’re established.”

It has been a long time coming. Duke hadn’t won 16 games in consecutive seasons since 1940-41 or an ACC title since 1962. Many players have distinguished themselves in the intervening five decades, but with just three bowl appearances to show for it.

The greatest Duke football player of all time just barely missed seeing it: Ace Parker, who passed away on Nov. 6 at 101, was a three-sport star and college and Pro Football Hall of Famer.

Others are enjoying the season.

“It’s more fun watching it now, but I’m sincerely not at all surprised,” Wilkinson said. “I have observed, watched and communicated with coach Cutcliffe and his staff and (athletic director) Kevin White. I know the expectations. They have believed that they could get it there. I just have been thrilled.”

Newman is now a judge in Miami, where he has been immersed in the Florida State side of things heading into Saturday’s ACC Championship Game. But his father went to Duke, as did his daughter, and his focus has never wavered.

“Truth be told, and I’m probably not alone, I wrote a check to the athletic department to say, ‘Good job, guys. Keep up the good work,’” Newman said. “They’ll probably get a few more. This is good business.”

DeCock: @LukeDeCock or 919-829-8947

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